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Blended Classroom Approach for Teaching Large Computer Simulation Classes
In a chemical engineering program, steady-state process simulation is commonly taught to undergraduate students, so as to enable them to analyse and optimise chemical processes. The delivery of the simulation content is often via tutorial approach, which requires students to follow the instructional sheets as a practice to master the computer simulation skills. The main challenge of this delivery method is that in a batch of students the individuals might not have the same level of knowledge and speed of learning.
There has been a lot of evidence on successful blended classroom teaching experiences from elementary schools through to colleges/universities. The blended classroom approach is a mix of traditional face-to-face teaching and technology-based learning. In addition to learning from the classroom time, it enables students to learn at their own pace outside of classroom with the aid of online resources. The blended classroom approach offers a good solution to overcome the problem of uneven student expertise levels, especially for large computer classes in which blended classroom approach is rarely adopted.
For the past two years, the blended classroom approach has been adopted for chemical engineering process simulation classes at the University of Nottingham Malaysia Campus (UNMC). The blended computer simulation classroom approach introduced consists of several online learning materials: PowerPoint and instructional videos (see an example here: https://youtu.be/-YAw1xHYtAk), face-to-face demonstration and guidance, peer learning and in-class tests. The class size can be as large as 120 students, and the teaching still receives good student satisfaction. Lecture notes are normally posted on the virtual learning environment (Moodle is used in UNMC) a day before the class. During the three-hour computer class, the lecturer first explains the concepts and then demonstrates the tutorial steps for solving the first problem. The students follow the steps by referring to their lecture notes. They then try similar but more advanced problems in the last hour of the session. In most cases the lecturer is helped by some Teaching Assistants (TAs; PhD students for the case of UNMC) who will help the students when they face any difficulties. The ratio of students to instructors (lecturer and TAs) is maintained as 30: 1, to ensure good interactions between instructors and students.
As the student number in UNMC is large, there are usually three groups in a class: one-third of the students learn relatively quickly, while another one-third learns relatively slowly. In addition there is also a big portion of absentees who are probably overloaded with work from other modules (courses). To help them, instructional videos are posted on the virtual learning environment after the lectures, so that students get to spend their personal times learning at their own pace, or are able to do easy revision before the tests. The assessment of the course consists of an in-class coursework and three in-class tests. The in-class coursework is carried out in groups and allows the students to help each other solve a chemical engineering problem without the instructor’s guidance. On the other hand, the three in-class tests, at an increasing level of difficulty, aim to ensure that the students have achieved key mastering skills such as competency in the use of numerical and computer methods, and abilities to identify, solve and analyze complex engineering problems.
More technologies will also be incorporated in the coming term such as online discussions, expert group investigations, and preferably, linkage to industrial projects, to enhance student engagement and passion for learning, and to better prepare them for future employment. Various examples of chemical engineering process simulation problems can be found in our recently published book, Chemical Engineering Process Simulation.
Edited by Dominic Foo, this work is ideal for students, early career researchers, and practitioners, as it guides you through chemical processes and unit operations using the main simulation softwares that are used in the industrial sector. It helps you predict the characteristics of a process using mathematical models and computer-aided process simulation tools, as well as model and simulate process performance before detailed process design takes place.
If you found this article stimulating, you may be interested in the book, Chemical Engineering Process Simulation on ScienceDirect. We are pleased to offer you a free chapter called “Introduction to Process Simulation,” below:
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